A Bayelsa State community in Nigeria is calling on the government to force Conoil, the indigenous operator of an offshore field that leaked significant volumes of gas into the environment, to pay compensation for damaging their livelihoods and health.

Reuben Preboye, chairman of Community Development Council for Sangana, said late last week: “We demand immediate action. What we need are relief materials, medical teams as soon as possible and they [Conoil] have to think of a way of paying adequate compensation.”

Protests against Conoil

He was speaking on 26 November when a flotilla of fishermen from Sangana were protesting at sea near Shelf Drilling's jack-up Adriatic 1 — the site of the gas leak — on Conoil's Otuo field in OML 59.

Sangana is one of 19 autonomous communities that make up the Akassa clan, and the fishermen threatened to stop all Conoil's operations in the area.

A local conservationist told Upstream that the leak — which judging by last week's video of the fishermen's protest, appears to have been brought under control — could threaten three endangered species of sea turtle that nest on beaches close to the Conoil field.

Upstream was told by a conservationist and youth representative in the affected community of Sangana that the gas leak began in early November.

'Well-control event'

Responding to Upstream's questions, Oslo-listed Shelf Drilling confirmed in an emailed statement that its Adriatic 1 rig experienced a "well-control event" on 31 October while working offshore Nigeria in OML 59.

"All personnel were promptly and safely evacuated after all engines were shut down," said the Dubai-headquartered company, adding that "the rig remains jacked-up on location and is currently being monitored by the operator’s field security vessels".

Shelf's statement noted that "the well initially was leaking dry gas and the well has been static since 15 November 2021".

The contractor said Conoil "is leading the efforts to permanently seal the well and has mobilised the relevant resources".

Under a cloud: gas is seen leaking below the deck of the jack-up Adriatic I which remained located on Conoil's Otuo field offshore Bayelsa State, Nigeria as of 26 November Photo: ST TELIMOYE REGAL PHOTOS

Informal report

Ebiegberi Raynus, youth affairs co-ordinator at the Akassa Development Foundation, and Telimoye Moses, president of the Akassa Clan Youth Presidents' Forum, took it upon themselves to document the environmental damage wrought in the initial days of the leak and produced an insightful, albeit informal, report.

Raynus told Upstream the leak began “on 1 November” and the local community “immediately informed the government” which sent a team to the rig site — that included officials from the Nigeria Oil Spill Detection & Response Agency (Nosdra) — to investigate.

Independent report

On 6 November, Raynus and Moses, visited the coast in the vicinity of Adriatic 1, with their report — sent to Upstream — estimating that more than 35,000 people were affected by the leak at that time, more than two thirds of whom were fishermen, while the area’s biodiversity was also hit hard.

In addition to Sangana, the affected communities include Fishtown, Okumbiri, Okumbiribeleu, Oginibiri, Mini-amgba, Bekekiri, Ogbokiri, Kotiri, Kongho, Buoama, Apparanbie and Minibie.

Gas fumes

According to the report, many fishermen were unable to go to sea because of the danger to life posed by hydrocarbon gas and vapours in the air, so many fled to higher ground.

Sea life was also devastated with dead fish — mainly croakers — washed up on beaches near the Adriatic 1.

A video taken late last week by the protesting fisherman also showed the sea surface strewn with bloated dead fish.

Raynus also noticed “that trees around that area are dying”, and expressed serious concern about the effect this leak will have on sea turtles.

Turtles threatened

As secretary general of the West African Sea Turtle Conservation society, Raynus said these animals may be badly affected by the leak.

“Our conservation efforts are in danger,” he said, because hydrocarbon contamination on the nesting beaches may affect the adult turtle as well as the eggs.

The report said Conoil must be made accountable for its actions and said major ongoing clean-up operations in Ogoniland should be extended to the Akassa area and other Niger Delta states suffering from oil spills and gas leaks.

Compensation

"What we need are relief materials, medical teams as soon as possible and they have to think of a way of paying adequate compensation,” the report said.

It has been a devastating month for Bayelsa, with Conoil failing to deal with the Otuo gas leak for weeks and Aiteo still unable to cap a blowout on a high-pressure oil well that is jetting up to 20,000 barrels per day into the Niger Delta’s fragile mangrove ecosystem.

Both Conoil and Nosdra had not replied to emailed questions from Upstream at press time.

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